by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Donald Downs writes for the Martin Center about the Trump administration plan to protect free speech on college campuses.
Like a cannonball, President Trump has leaped into the turbulent waters of higher education free speech policy and action. Carrying through on a promise he made during a freewheeling speech he delivered at CPAC a few weeks ago, the president has issued an executive order that throws the power of the federal government into the protection of free speech in higher education.
Entitled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” the order mandates that the heads of several federal agencies work with the Office of Management and Budget to take “appropriate steps” to safeguard “free inquiry” on campus. Schools that violate whatever regulations emerge from the order would be subject to losing their federal funding.
The first question one asks regarding a major new federal regulation is whether it is even needed. Is it an attempt to solve or ameliorate a problem, or a solution in search of a problem? The second question is the means chosen to deal with the problem. I address each question in order.
Debate rages over the nature and extent of the campus free speech problem—after all, higher education is a vast and complex enterprise. Regardless, Trump’s objective is highly defensible. Who except censors and narrow-minded political activists think free speech is not vital to higher education and the country? And reasonable observers agree that free speech is at least embattled in many institutions, and in worse shape at too many.